Smoky Mountain National Park was the first national park our family visited and the first time we hiked as a family. We visited Pigeon Forge, Tennessee in 2015, during the school holiday break, and made sure to squeeze in a few hikes, even though it was a little chilly. We stayed in Pigeon Forge, which is about 5 minutes away from Smoky Mountain National Park and visited Gatlinburg, Knoxville, and Pigeon Forge with kids. This area has so many activities for families, that we never ran out of things to do. That is why I believe that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best national park vacations for families. Here is a review of one of our favorite Smoky Mountain hikes, Laurel Falls TN.
First of all, be sure to take this picture! We try to make sure and take a family shot with each National Park sign. There is a slight turn off where you can park and luckily we were the only ones there.
Laurel Falls TN: Hiking the Trail
If you are new to hiking, like we were at the time, check out these Hiking 101 tips. Of the 3 trails we have hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains, the Laurel Falls hike is our favorite. It is short (2.6 miles round trip), family friendly, mostly paved, gentle and scenic. We have done this hike twice in the winter (the first time the kids were 3 and 5, and the second time they were 5 and 7). Even in 30 degrees, the falls were plentiful, and although there was some ice as you neared the viewing area, it was safe for the whole family. It is one of my favorite East Coast hikes.
The parking lot is clearly marked and the trailhead is steps away from the lot (very easy to find). If you go to Laurel Falls TN later in the day, parking can be hard to find, but keep trying – it’s worth the trouble.
A good portion of the Laurel Falls hike is paved and flat (making it very easy for little ones and “out of shape” ones). A stroller can technically be used for most of the trail, but once you get closer to the falls, it does not fit. See the short video below and notice how wide the paved trail is.
There are many places along the Laurel Falls hike to stop and take pictures, or just to relax and enjoy nature. There are a couple of sections where you scramble through some rocks, and towards the end of the 1.3 miles to get to the falls, there is a steep drop off that you must be careful with your kids.
As with most
The return hike back to the car is another 1.3 miles, yet for whatever reason, the way back is always faster than the way there. We stopped to take some pictures of the mountains in the distance, and soak in the woods all around us.
Since it was our first time visiting a national park, I had not heard about the junior ranger program until we left. It was after this trip that I started working on a family bucket list of visiting all 50 states and trying to explore as many national parks and monuments as possible. The kids’ personal goals were to become junior rangers for at least 10 parks. Here are the ones they have done so far:
- Acadia National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Teton to Yellowstone
- Mammoth Cave
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Other Smoky Mountain Hikes
Besides Laurel Falls TN, there are plenty of other great Smoky Mountain hikes for the whole family to enjoy. Here is a list of some family-friendly trails nearby if you’re looking for other Smoky Mountain hikes in the vicinity:
- Abrams Falls – a five-mile hike over log bridges and through beautiful forested scenery along the Cades Cove Scenic loop. A good portion of the hike follows the Abrams Creek. Not recommended for little ones.
- Porters Creek Trail – a four-mile wooded hike with an old cemetery, creek views, historic buildings, and a 40-foot cascading waterfall. It offers great wildflower views during the springtime.
- Deep Creek Loop Trail – closer to North Carolina, this almost five-mile hike features several waterfalls, wildflowers, and a peaceful river.
Both times we hiked Laurel Falls TN, we were on a road trip around the South and drove up from Miami. On that trip, Tennessee was our final destination, but we made sure to stop along the way at St. Augustine, Savannah, Atlanta, Helen
Every time we would do a road trip out of Florida, it was at least 6 hours out of the state. We made sure to have plenty of road trip activities for kids and used small durable luggage to make sure we have room.
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